is the message of Pentecost. How one could wish for bridges of understanding between people. Worldwide and especially in the Philippines where (link) “political and religious institutions have been grafted unto a recalcitrant native disposition” (Edgar Lores). Recalcitrant = unwilling – and (link): “When confronted with the many problems of modern society, we Filipinos always seem to apply family/barkada analogies” (contributor Francis, Society of Honor). Someone I know noted the “insular mentality” of Filipinos. I said imagine how isolated the world was for those in 1521.
Then Spanish ships came in, like in Star Wars when Imperial cruisers appear in the sky of a planet. What was not understood, or seen as hostile, was not truly assimilated. Some Filipinos just seem to recite moral, legal or democratic principles, either like over-eager or bored pupils back in school. For those who always openly acted as if it was bullshit – seen from the “barangay” point of view – someone like Duterte was a godsend, just barely finishing school and going to the movies instead of caring about what Congress debated. Some formerly over-eager types found their inner rebels.
Trouble in the Philippines is that the lowest common denominator often becomes the standard. Higher standards tend to be seen as elitist or hypocritical. Liza Soberano seemed to have to curse (link) to be accepted as a true Filipino by many. Many institutions above the original tribal culture indeed came from colonialists and were used by the over-eager pupils to show their superiority. While the bored pupils waited until after school – or for the present times – to beat the nerds up. Even worse, many native traditions were destroyed by colonialism, so “barangay culture” regressed.
Some Filipino intellectuals, confused and lost when using maps like Filipino migrants also are, unlike the migrants had a “nationalistic” excuse for it: “maps are the colonialistic top-down view”. Good that UP also teaches excuses. Few are taught that Polynesians had navigational devices (link) that also have a certain level of abstraction. You cannot just rely on your senses alone out there. Filipinos who confined themselves to fishing near the coast forgot these crafts. Those who stayed mostly in the barangay relied on their senses alone and on the accounts of the people they knew.
Responses to drug war critics that they should look “on the ground” are typical for that mentality, just like Mocha’s statement that she did not see any EJK victims coming home from work at night (there was a Winnie Monsod “Bawal ang Pasaway” episode where she said that) – or someone I know who said Leila De Lima is a drug lord. Because all relatives in Europe and Canada say so. Such thinking works fine when you and your relatives personally know everyone you deal with. Lacking “personal knowledge” of a matter can even disqualify in today’s Philippine Congress (link)!
Going back to the barangay mentality and casting off the tools that extend senses and perceptions severely limits judgement. “Western” tools developed over centuries to inform and educate larger societies are for example news reports, written accounts and summaries (extension of senses) and deduction, induction, analysis by experts (extension of perception). Instead fakery is believed. Videos and fotos may be spliced or a bit skewed yet people think they really saw what happened. Popular commenters like Mocha and Tulfo make people think someone they know told them.
In the barangay – in fact in all agricultural societies – a certain homogeneity was more important than the plurality of views in modern society. Personal sympathies very important for cooperation – while in larger units morals and laws as abstract rules allow even anonymous people to cooperate. Eight so-called Justices in the Philippines applied barangay or barkada rules towards CJ Sereno, even though they couched their reasons for it in “integrity” the true reason is I think very visible. Unwittingly or wittingly, they tore up the ground rule (or illusion) that Filipino laws are impartial.
Imagine a Philippines were every multinational company has to go by the whims of the President. There are already stories of how Filipino mayors can be autocratic, and that parts of the provinces are ruled like by small datus who make the rules up by themselves. The Filipino elite, though often biased in favor of its own rent-seeking businesses, did at least maintain a pretense of impartiality. Although that pretense became weaker and weaker over the years. Fraport was a warning sign. Then came Gordon and Acosta with all their baseless accusations about Dengvaxia and Aquino.
Who will still invest in the country then? Will the Imperial cruisers leave, 500 years after 1521? Unfortunately a country cannot be un-discovered, so the pristine innocence of then is forever gone. But returning something even worse than that, the confined barangay mentality of colonial times with its frustrated and frustrating lack of perspective, short-sightedness, self-involvement, envy and malice – will not help. The mentality of the village in the Noli, of Justice De Castro and many Aquino-haters is not only backward. Its neediness is easily exploited by smart “alien invaders”.
Aguinaldo’s provincial need for self-aggrandizement was successfully exploited by the Spaniards when they gave him money to exile himself in Hong Kong in the 1897 Pact of Biak-na-Bato, same thing with the USA who brought him back on a steamship. Did he hope they would make him the President of his own Republic? He invoked the “Protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” (link) much like Duterte today says Xi Jinping will protect him from ouster (link) and that Filipinos must be meek and humble so Xi will have mercy (link). Provincial thinking.
Broader perspectives are needed for national leaders. The old elite perspective seems gone now. With notable exceptions, it was not really understood anyway, just the over-eager pupils reciting. The whiz kids who have gone beyond reciting to understanding and adding own ideas to matters are now teaching the Filipino nation – former Solicitor General Hilbay and CJ Sereno are examples. They excel in matters of law and justice, matters already more assimilated into Filipino culture than democracy, since law was – after priesthood – one of the first vocations open to “the natives”.
Both are making the principles behind the law more visible to a larger audience than ever before – even more than the late Senator Santiago did. But an episode of the Word of the Lourd (link) shows how few Filipinos on the street understand “quo warranto” at all. Lourd de Veyra has a certain type of Filipino humor that has become rare nowadays, one that has a certain self-irony. Westerners gain the dispassionate distance needed for better judgement through logic, Easterners through mindfulness, Filipinos through humor. But not the caustic, attacking “humor” of Duterte. Maybe, maybe, there is a beginning in such discourse. A speaking in tongues, a bridging of minds. Maybe even democracy in the Philippines, how the polity organizes itself, may yet learn from this. But that plant has the shallowest roots of all, a recent import like hamburgers. Let’s have Jolibee.
Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 20 May 2018